Life has changed in Wales over the past few weeks due to the Covid-19 virus and the lockdown – but one positive implication of social distancing whilst exercising is that we have taken the opportunity to explore more of the open spaces on the edge of towns and cities, finding new and exciting trails to run on.
As a farmer’s daughter who goes home to help as much as possible I thought I would offer some hints, tips and some useful information about running in the countryside. After all, I’m sure no one sets out for a run wanting confrontation with animals or farmers! Even I need permission to run on some of Dad’s land!
Exploring the land
Firstly and perhaps the most important is what you can and cannot legally do when running in the countryside. There is no right to walk and roam around all fields you may come across as some of these will be agricultural land or other privately owned lands. However, you will find in most countryside areas (including across private land) that there are public rights of way (footpaths and bridleways) created for everyone to be able to enjoy the countryside (Ordnance Survey Maps should identify these). Landowners are obliged to keep public rights of way open and accessible and whilst they will seek to ensure that no bulls are kept near the right of way – this may not always be possible.
Even though it is your right to walk on these designated paths, you are expected to be respectful in not littering or damaging hedges, crops and stiles, after all this is the farmer’s livelihood. Another important message is to ensure that you leave the gates as they are, so if you open one please ensure you close the gate; escaping animals is not only a hassle for the farmer but can cause accidents on the roads and on the trails for other runners.
Cows are beautiful, curious creatures known for their big brown eyes and are found around most countryside areas, they will either be dairy milking cows or beef cows. Unfortunately, due to their size, speed and weight, these can be the most dangerous animals you will find whilst roaming the countryside. Farmers have numerous contingency plans whilst handling cows and bulls to ensure their safety and have years of experience in understanding their behavior. There are a few things you can do to ensure you don’t find yourself face to face with an angry cow or bull when running in the countryside:
- Keep calm – when walking or running through a field where there are cows present try and stay calm and try not to draw attention to yourself. Cows are very nosey and curious, and if they see someone they might want to meet you, and running away will seem like a game to the younger cows who will try and join you! Walk slowly until you’re out of sight.
- Handling your dog – cows can see dogs as predators especially when they have young calves in close proximity. Keep your dog on a lead at all times and if a cow comes charging towards you it is most likely to be after the dog so let it go. Your dog will find its way to safety and most of the time the cow will leave you alone. Holding onto the dog can get you into a lot of trouble as the cow will continue to go for the dog. The dogs on the farm at home have been taught to leave the field if they see a calf.
- Calves – As mentioned above cows are very protective of their calf, even the friendliest, nicest cow can become aggressive when they have a calf. I know it is so tempting to stroke the cute little calf but please resist, you don’t want to be seen as a threat.
- Bulls – one message for you – keep clear! Bulls are not to be trusted and should be avoided at all times, many farmers have been injured or even killed by bulls in the past. You will usually find them in a field amongst female cows. A little fact; you will see that most bulls have nose rings, this is to assist farmers in handling them as it’s the one of the most sensitive part of the body but will cause the least amount of damage whilst using. At no point you should try and touch the bull’s nose when running in the countryside.
There are more sheep in Wales than people so you will see sheep everywhere when wondering around the Welsh countryside! Watching the young lambs running around the fields playing is one of my favourite views in the countryside – they look so happy. Sheep are more or less harmless and they are very likely to run away from you once they spot you. Please don’t chase after the sheep or try and catch them – this will cause them a lot of distress and could lead to harm or even death. Pregnant ewes and lambs are around at this time of the year and trying to catch a lamb could separate it from its mother.
Whilst running in the countryside you might spot a sheep laying on its back, it is not natural for them to lie on their back with their legs in the air and they could die if left in this position too long as they cannot roll back over. If safe to do so, give it a helping hand and roll it back over onto its legs.
Sheep are not the most intelligent animals and you might find one stuck in the hedge or even worse, a ditch. Again, if safe to do so, if you find one in this sticky situation you might want to help them out.
This is a very simple one – please keep your dogs on a lead whilst running in the countryside. Dogs can act unpredictable around livestock. As mentioned above cows will see dogs as predators and this could lead to harm to the dog and yourself. This is similar for sheep but it is likely that the sheep will come off 2nd best. Sheep will naturally run away from dogs and as untrained dogs (dogs that aren’t trained sheepdogs) their instinct will be to run after them with some even harming and killing the sheep. Dogs have very sharp teeth and even the smallest bite can seriously harm or even kill a sheep.
It is also important to clean up dog mess during your run across agricultural land as diseases found in dog faeces can result in abortion in cattle and death in sheep.
Most of the farms you will come across whilst running in the countryside are family farms with some going back numerous generations and this is not only a business to them but their livelihood. Farmers work countless hours ensuring that their animals are safe and healthy and it is important for you to try and not to get in the way. If you come across a farmer during your walk give a friendly smile and greeting, you might be the only person they’ve seen that day or they’ve had a hard day’s work and it could cheer them up. They may even be a fellow runner!
I hope this is useful to you all when running in the countryside, exploring new trails.
Remember to respect the countryside and enjoy.
Alaw Beynon-Thomas (Runner and part time farm worker)